Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Let America Happen by Feyisayo Anjorin

Feyisayo Anjorin's Nigerian character sees his girl stolen away by bald little Jassy Akanmi, and becomes convinced that he needs to visit America to win her back.

So your favourite girl did something that shocked you and surprised you. The girl you loved like a love song. There was a time when you thought of your future together; unbridled thoughts of a rosy future that made you heady. You didn't listen to the people who told you with solemn or stern expressions to take it easy with this love thing. After all you were an idealistic youth and it was far easier to gloss over issues and put a positive spin on them than it was to listen to the advice of people who seemed to think that every hopeful person would turn out as miserably as they've turned.

But you felt like a loser when your girlfriend did the unexpected. It would have been more bearable if she had not left you for Jassy Akanmi, the one that was called baldlilthing in your days in secondary school because his small head was always shaved, and he was the shortest in the class. You knew him before he travelled to the US. You remembered his worn-out and oversized shirts, and his ankle length trousers. He was usually in his bathroom slippers with his feet covered with a brown film of dust. There was a time when his feet had cracks of dryness. Baldlilthing was one of the most pathetic sights in your town until he travelled to America.

You had to deal with a new reality. Jassy Akanmi's days as a bald, little thing were long gone and many of your classmates would not need to be depressed by the strength of his new reputation. But you were a victim of the new reputation; or maybe you didn't think of yourself as a victim. There are so many fishes in the sea, they would say. But how would that cheer your heart when the goldfish you've treasured for a long time is snatched by someone you never imagined would be good enough to do it?

You heard, like everybody else, when baldlilthing came back from Atlanta. You heard of his new car, and his new height, and his well-toned muscles that could only be a result of regular visits to a gym. You heard of his designer clothes and his American accent.

All the beautiful girls in your neighbourhood were on the America returnee like flies on rotten food, and you would not have bothered about Jassy Akanmi's new exploits if you had not seen Titi Fatade coming down from his car at the parking lot of Mr Biggs. When you saw Titi, the girl you thought would love you forever, the one you thought about anytime you listened to the lyrics of Westlife, the one you serenaded and promised to love without holding back, you stared at her as if you had seen a ghost. But she walked past you; oh, it was more like a cat-walk, for she was in stiletto.

Jassy Akanmi also ignored you as if you were an ancient statue that has become too familiar to be fascinating. You wanted to call him; but when you opened your mouth it felt wrong to call him badlilthing; it also felt wrong to call him Jassy, because you've never called him by his real name.

Your mouth remained opened for a few seconds like the mouth of a strangled animal as you watched the boy put his arm around the girl's waist, leading her into the restaurant. The scene replayed in your mind again and again; until you were convinced that you really needed change in your life.

Then you had an idea. You smiled at the thought of Titi kneeling before you, desperately begging to be taken back and telling you that her acts were the work of the devil. You imagined yourself, arms folded and nose in the air, dressed in a Nike shirt, blue jeans and new sneakers, telling Titi that those days belong to the past and that you now have another girl. You could compound her sorrow by telling her that the new girl is white; you could even make up a name. Linda, Debra, Colleen.

America would happen to you too. You were determined.

So, you went to Jose King Travels to find out what you would need to travel to America. You saw a uniformed security guard beside the sign board at the gate, gnawing at a mango fruit, and you wanted to ask him some questions but you changed your mind when you saw the notice board that was on the wall beside the entrance door of the building. A brief glance through the glass door revealed a busy office. Humans. Electronics. Documents. You read the large poster on the board:

AMERICA IMMIGRATION EASY PEASY - FLY OVER OBSTACLES TO YOUR AMERICAN DREAM

WE HANDLE VISA PROCUREMENT, JOB PLACEMENT & ACCOMMODATION

2 WEEK PROCESSING OR YOUR MONEY BACK.

You brought out a pen and a piece of paper you have folded neatly in your pocket and wrote the requirements: Birth certificate, bank statement, police clearance and the sum of eight hundred thousand naira. "This will be easy," you thought. You could bribe someone at the local government office for the birth certificate; you could get a bank statement using one of your contacts at Guild bank, who would also ask for a bribe or 'an encouragement'; the police clearance would be the easiest. You then wondered if it was right to say that a bribe answers all things in Nigeria.

You thought of your life in America the same way you thought about your future with Titi Fatade. Your life in America, according to your mind, was prosperous and eventful. You imagined yourself in winter outfits, walking past snow-covered streets; you imagined yourself seated in the train, headphones on, tapping your foot to the tunes of the latest chart-topping pop song. You imagined yourself leaving the premises of a shopping mall, happily bearing the weight of plastic bags bearing the names of the designer brands you've been able to buy.

You could take a picture in a McDonald's outlet with packs of burgers and chips; you could take pictures of so many white people so that Titi would know that you now keep the company of white people and you are able to contribute to their discussions of complex things. You were determined, in your mind, to make sure that the pictures would be seen by Titi. The plans came to your mind fully formed.

After your visit to Jose King Travels, you sat at the front porch of your father's house, and wished he had not died. You thought of the millions that was spent on his health; money that would have gone to your education. You remembered your father's struggles with the ever fluctuating cocoa prices, and the times that pests destroyed his crops, and the times he had to carry heavy loads at garages and marketplaces to sustain his family. You thought about your mother and her daily life of shouting herself hoarse while calling for customers to buy boiled groundnuts from her in the market. The old woman deserves more than that, you were sure. And you had no doubt that America would do her so much good.

You thought about the processing fee and the bribes, and you were sure that one million naira would solve everything. You didn't have a million; but your father's cocoa farm near Akure airport was worth a little more than that. You didn't want to sell the farm. Your mother would not agree to that, and you wanted to surprise her with the America thing.

So you decided to visit Fadeyi Akinola who had once held a political post and had looted enough from the public treasury to live the life of royalty. He was known as a money lender; but he was also known as someone who tortured those who refused to keep to the promised terms.

Akinola was not difficult to convince. He was your father's friend, or so he says. He would lend you the money, on the condition that you give him the title deeds to your father's lands which he would keep till you pay at the set time. You promised and swore by your father's gods that the money would be paid in six months. You were sure of your ability to work tirelessly day and night in America, you were sure that little becomes a lot when it is American dollars converted to these worthless African currencies.

You were glad when you thought of the extent of your progress in just a day. One day you had visited Jose King Travels, and the next you were ready to take the first concrete step to true financial freedom. Just like Jassy Akanmi.

You tightened your grip of the bag of money as you entered the premises of Jose King Travels. You weren't concerned that the security guard you saw at the gate on your previous visit was not there. Then you noticed that the parking lot was empty; and you saw a woman with dishevelled hair seated on the floor under the notice board. You wondered if she was one of the mentally unbalanced ones who would walk around barefooted, sleep in abandoned buildings and public spaces, and eat from the bins; but you didn't want her to see you as one of the unreasonably fearful men in case she was sane. So you kept walking towards the entrance door.

"God will punish them!" the woman was screaming, "Ogun will destroy them! Holy ghost fire will scatter them!"

Her face was shiny with sweat and tears streamed from her puffy eyes. You felt the compelling urge to ask what was wrong with the woman but she raised her voice again: "Dysentery will kill them! Thunder will strike them!"

You walked past her with caution, because it seemed as if she could grab you and hurt you with her fingernails and her teeth; you couldn't be sure if she would mistake you for one of the 'them' that she wants to be destroyed, scattered, killed or struck by gods, nature and sickness.

You peeped through the glass door of the office complex and took in the empty room that had in the previous day been filled with desks and swivel chairs, printers, computers, photocopiers and documents.

As you left the premises of Jose King, your grip of the bag of money was tighter. If you had brought the money yesterday or two days earlier, your case would have been more miserable than it was when your favourite girl left you. You would have lost more than the two hundred thousand naira that went with the bribes for the procurement of fake documents.

You would have lost your father's land because the eight hundred thousand naira would be gone; and there would be no America. Baldlilthing would still be the ladies' favourite in your neighbourhood; and you would still have nothing to make your runaway girlfriend know that you are now better than she left you.

But you could still lose your father's land because now you have six months to repay the dreaded Fadeyi Akinola. So, as they say, the more things seem to change the more they remain the same. If America does not happen to you then you have to try so hard to make sure something worse doesn't.

6 comments:

  1. is that like running to standstill?

    nicely drawn characters, good Story.

    Michael McCarthy

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  2. The naivete and innocence of the style of this story and its character, make the realization of love lost and failed dreams that much harder to bear. But his failed dream saves him in the end from being completely lost. Maybe he dreamt too big...? Good story.

    James Shaffer

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  3. A jagged and difficult piece - well worth the telling. Cultures and ways of life devalued against the hegemony of dominant over-valued western ideals - and distorting relationships and self-identity. So much being lost in the process. The tale is enriched by a sophisticated awareness that there is more than one entrapment awaiting players in the dramas of life, as we swerve to avoid one peril another awaits. A fine narrative - thank you,

    Ceiwen Haydon

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  4. Really liked the second person voice in this. I think it works really well. Not easily done in 2nd person! Enjoyed this story!

    Charlotte Hayden

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  5. Quite an interesting story--a strong voice and an easy flow. Upsetting, too, which also indicates how well done it is. Good job.

    Simon Hardy Butler

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  6. If America doesn't happen to you, make sure something worse doesn't. Quite an interesting story; but the ending phrase just did it for me. Simply amazing.

    ReplyDelete